The Personal Side of Franklin D. Roosevelt Shown in a Scarce ALS

The only letter of FDR inviting a personal friend to join him on vacation we can recall seeing.

Purchase $3,500

In 1921, 39-year-old Franklin D. Roosevelt seemed to face a future of unlimited success. But that same year he contracted polio, and was left paralyzed from the waist down. At the time there was no known cause of, or cure for, polio, and the practice of the day was to hide anyone...

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The Personal Side of Franklin D. Roosevelt Shown in a Scarce ALS

The only letter of FDR inviting a personal friend to join him on vacation we can recall seeing.

In 1921, 39-year-old Franklin D. Roosevelt seemed to face a future of unlimited success. But that same year he contracted polio, and was left paralyzed from the waist down. At the time there was no known cause of, or cure for, polio, and the practice of the day was to hide anyone with the disability away from the public eye. Roosevelt was a fighter and was determined to walk again, and found hope after hearing about a young polio victim who learned to walk again after swimming in the waters of a hot mineral springs health spa at Warm Springs south of Atlanta. He moved there in 1924, and his initial cynicism about the run-down conditions and pitiable patients was gradually replaced by a deep empathy and understanding for the suffering of others, along with an optimism and inspiration that polio victims could be helped. When Warm Springs, a former resort area, faced economic hardship in 1926, FDR  invested two-thirds of his savings to purchase it for $200,000, and made improvements like adding heating and water throughout the property. He created a therapeutic center under the direction of the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, which he founded in early 1927. The facility opened its doors to patients from all over the country, providing medical treatment and an opportunity to spend time with others suffering from the effects of polio. An enclosed pool funded by automotive pioneer Henry Ford’s son Edsel was added, and improvements began to be made. Physicians and physiotherapists worked with Roosevelt to develop muscle exercises. The “Spirit of Warm Springs” became firmly entrenched as patients relearned to function in society and to laugh and enjoy life.

Commander George C. Sweet was a U.S. Navy officer significant in promoting the early use of aircraft by the Navy. In September 1908, then-Lieutenant Sweet, serving as a Naval observer, reported favorably on the Wright Brothers airplane demonstration at Fort Meyer, near Washington, D.C. In 1909 Sweet was taken up with the Wright Brothers first Army flyer, becoming the first Navy officer to travel in an airplane. Sweet was then assigned to the Navy’s school for airplane instruction, and was thereafter a Navy engineer in Washington, specializing in steam engines. In early 1919 Sweet was named assistant to the Naval Attache at the American embassy in Paris, a particularly plum posting as the peace conference to end World War I was being carried on in Versailles.

Franklin D. Roosevelt followed in his cousin’s footsteps to fame by serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913-1920. He was a prime advocate of naval aviation, and against strong opposition is credited with preserving the Navy’s air arm from demobilization after World War I. He surely met Sweet in his capacity of promoting naval aviation. Roosevelt was called to Paris to join President Wilson at the Versailles Conference in January 1919. According to the Sweet descendants, FDR and Commander Sweet forged a friendship onboard ship, clearly indicating that the two men were passengers on the USS George Washington together in 1919, though whether on the sailing in January or return in July (or both) is not known.

Autograph letter signed, on his Warm Springs, Georgia letterhead, March 5, 1927, to Sweet, urging him to bring his family and join the Roosevelts: “It is a perfectly pious idea that you should bring your family down here. The hotel opens April 1, or you could take one of the little cottages. I know you would all love it & that will be the loveliest time of the year. The mountain is covered with violets & azalea & warm enough to use the big open air pool with its temperature of 89 degrees. And by that time too I hope to be far enough along to know how much heating plant & water supply I can put in. Do try to come down. It would be fine. As ever, Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

This historic letter appears to be unpublished, as we can find no mention of it. It remained in the hands of the Sweet descendants until now, and has never before been offered for sale. It is remarkable, in that we have never before seen a letter of FDR inviting a personal friend to join him on vacation. FDR was a sociable personal and had many friendly acquaintences, but very few real friends. This letter shows the extraordinary degree of friendship FDR felt for Sweet.

The cottage to which FDR invited the Sweets had just been completed in February 1927, and was FDR’s pride and joy. Shortly before writing Sweet, he wrote his mother: “The new cottage is too sweet, really very good in every way, the woodwork covering all walls and ceilings a great success.”

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